The Power of Pronouns
I have been criticized by several straight cisgender white males in my life for being “too politically correct” when it comes to language (I gave up on correcting their grammatical errors and incorrect use of words a long time ago. ) I have had the words “feminist,” “liberal” and “atheist” (I’m agnostic—they couldn’t even get it right!) hurled at me in anger… yeah, as though those are insults! rofl These were instances of men with privilege not recognizing their privilege and then using that privilege not only to malign others, but also to attempt to intimidate me into shutting up. It didn’t work. My father prides himself in not being a bigot (and he really isn’t when it comes to people of color or people with physical disabilities) yet he has the most rigid attitudes of anyone I know and refuses to admit that some of his “opinions” may not be based on factual information.
The importance of language should not be underestimated. Our lives center largely around various types of relationships. The success of relationships depends on communication, and much of our communication is accomplished through language and how we use language. As someone who has been addressed by an incorrect name on a regular basis and has her surname mispronounced more frequently than it has been pronounced correctly, I can attest to how invalidated it can make one feel. And when someone doesn’t spell my name correctly when it is right in front of them (e.g., on Facebook) it sends me the message that their communication with me is not (or I am not) important enough to them for them to make the effort. When I was a manager responsible for hiring, any resumés with letters on which my name was spelled incorrectly automatically went into the “probably not” pile: If a prospective employee does not make the effort to spell their possible future supervisor’s name correctly, what can one expect in terms of the quality of their work?
Names, descriptive labels and pronouns… they are all important because they refer to who we are. When people use incorrect names, descriptions, pronouns, etc., it strikes to the very core of our identities as human beings.
Or, more accurately, they are symptomatic of the issue.
The issue that underlies all the rest of the stuff, the issue that creates the fundamental problems.
The use of the proper pronouns, the use of the right name, the remembering to say that a woman is a woman instead of calling her a man — these things are all symptomatic of the issue, and they are the most important things.
Because the issue is this: if you want to say that trans women are not women or trans men are not men, especially when you hate them, then you are the problem, not the solution.
That’s what underlies the bullshit around the MWMF. That’s why it hasn’t gone away, and only gets worse.
That’s what underlies the calls for things like laws that decide which bathroom you can use based on your birth certificate.
That’s what underlies laws that require sterilization just to change some paperwork.
That’s what makes that paperwork so damned important.
Some might speculate that it is men who kill trans women of color. IT is a reasonable speculation — the majority of the attacks that are known are done by men. But many of the attack that are done are also done by women.
The call for the moral extermination of trans people was put forth by a woman, though. A woman who also helped to ensure that medical coverage for trans needs was labeled as “experimental” decades ago, when it already had decades behind it.
THat, by itself, meant that a lot of trans people died, and they all died for the same core reasn: people did not see them as the women they are, and even though they might, occasionally, say something like “well, they are women, but they aren’t female?, that sort of bullshit is nothing more than a backhanded furtherance of the very same problem.
That is the problem. IT is the chief problem, the first problem, the most important problem. It is more important for trans people than domestic violence, than rape, than homelessness, than pretty much all of those social ills because it is what lies at the very heart of it.
Other people do not get to police how one person’s existence is genuine or not. You do not get to decide if I am enough of a woman, or if I have “female energy”, or if I am the right sort or the proper kind.
That is, in the end, the core of it. The heart of it. Because that lies at the heart of all those other things, and is the root cause, the root source, and those who continue to do it are complicit in the very acts thereby.
BEcause no matter what the statistical prevalence of other things might say (and here I am thinking of someone who uses a statistical model in a commentary on this, not realizing the incredibly racist manner of her usage, while dismissing as unreliable a study that is far, far more reliable than her piss poor assemblage of disparate data), it is not poverty alone that creates situations like this.
And until people recognize the basic, core, heartfelt sense of self in people who are men, women, both, and neither, then there will continue to be an overriding need to recognize that pronouns are indeed incredibly important.
Because that is what lies at the root. That is the first step. That trans women be seen as women. That trans men be seen as men. That trans people of color be seen as just as much a part of the trans community as all the rest.
That’s not merely pandering, either.
The single most overwhelming predictor of success in a diversionary program — be it substance abuse, prostitution, or just getting out of a cycle of self destructive behavior — for a trans person is that they be treated consistently, enduringly, and readily as the man, woman, or person they are.
And I have data going back seven years that supports that. That shows that respecting someone is the first step to saving their life.
That’s the impact on 3200 trans people. Not counting the ones in the last year.
SO yes, the right to be called the right pronouns, the right name, is the most important thing to do.
So let’s name the problem, shall we?
The problem is people not thinking that trans people are what they really are. The problem is people policing trans people’s lives. The problem is fucking assholes who call trans women men and male, and trans men women and female.
IF you know someone who does that — no matter what their justifications are for it — you know someone who is actively contributing to the problem, who is part of it, and who is fighting against the solution.
The solution is simple.
Tell them to stop treating other people as if their lives were their personal property.
I can think of one person, we’ll call her Cockroach, who does this frequently. She runs around the internet acting like a dick and then scrambling away every time the light is turned on. Seems fitting.
It would be pretty incredible if people just went to all her twitter accounts, to all her “friends”, to all her Facebook pages and all her blogs and simply left the comment above. Nothing more, nothing less.
Stop treating other people as if their lives are your personal property. Stop using the wrong pronouns. Stop using the wrong names. Stop being the problem.
A real simple comment. It doesn’t say the hard things we all want to say the way we would like to say them. But it still says what needs to be said, and it does it well.
Then leave it alone. They have been “educated”. After that, its up to them, and it is time to move on to greener pastures. They will be left behind, consigned to the dustbin of history, footnotes on how not to be human beings in the not too distant future.
Just as the person who called for that moral extermination, that genocide, is now a footnote, consigned to the dustbin of history, an example of how not to be a human being.
There are bigger fish in the sea.